A photograph of a row of bikes parked by a canal that runs parallel to a picturesque city street in Amsterdam
Photo: Kirk Fisher/Pixabay

Amsterdam is much more than first meets the eye. From afar, Amsterdam seems to consist of only the scandalous Red Light District and the somber Anne Frank House. But up close, this often-underestimated Dutch haven presents art and experience in spades.

Arriving in this near-cartoon metropolis puts travelers in a dreamlike state: in a bustling capital where cars aren’t allowed, the tringtringing of bikes fills your ears as they whiz past multicolored pastel houses, down cobblestone streets running parallel to the canals. At first, the patternless layout of these narrow streets is disorienting, but, as you adjust to the sensory overload, you find you don’t mind; in fact, you surrender to it willingly.

Literature thrives here. Secondhand bookstores line the canals in the “9 Straatjes” (Nine little streets), like the Boekie Woekie, which specializes in self-published and small-press books. Every Friday, Squi puts on an outside book market, where shoppers find novels, poetry, and nonfiction written in dozens of languages. Just around the corner stands the American Book Center, a four-floor library and store with wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, Beauty and the Beast style. As if that’s not enough to fill your dreamy days, every year in May, the city puts on the Amsterdam Literary Festival, which accepts submissions from all genres and proffers the world’s largest book market, with over one thousand stalls.

It’s impossible not to acknowledge the ghost of Anne Frank and both the museum and statue erected in her memory. Her legacy has given birth to a rich literary scene: dozens of writing workshops meet monthly, like the Amsterdam Writers Guild, full of creatives from different backgrounds and cultures. Artists here mingle easily; most speak two or three languages. The Van Gogh Museum alone brings in hundreds of people daily from around the world. Open since 1973, it holds the largest collection of paintings and drawings by Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries; though Starry Night resides in the MoMA in New York City, you can still see Self-Portrait, Sunflowers, and Almond Blossoms.

For those equally interested in writing as well as reading, there’s the Perdu, the center for Dutch poetry. It boasts creative workshops, exhibits, a theater, and a small publishing house. The Mezrab Storytelling School hosts a three-day introduction course to allow you to get a feel for what the professional courses might be like, should you seek a more permanent relationship with the city.

The inhabitants welcome international influence, and because of this, the town has become a melting pot of perspectives, preserved by an easygoing nature and inviting aura. Amsterdam offers something for everyone, from the traveling student to the serious artist. Its door is open to all—you only have to knock.

What to Read by the Canal


David Hewson

The House of Dolls

Pan Books





Hendrik Marsman

Three Dutch Poems

Trans. Jacquelyn Pope

WLT website


Richard Milazzo

“Artaud in Amsterdam” and other poems in Prayer in a Wolf’s Mouth: Poems 2013–2014

Lower Canal Books





Deborah Moggach

Tulip Fever

Dial Press





Dubravka Ugrešić

The Ministry of Pain

Trans. Michael Henry Heim


A WLT intern, Taylor Hickney has a degree in English writing from the University of Oklahoma and will begin pursuing an MFA in fiction at the New School in August. Commas are important, and she hates surprises. A big thanks to Amy Poehler for getting her this far in life.